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2008.02.26

* Promoting a passion for reading on remote Malaysian islands
* 03 min 15 secs
* 10 Sep 2007


As dawn breaks off the coast of Borneo, students make an extra early start for school. Muhamad Iswan and Khairul Idham attend classes on Timbang island, a half-hour by boat from the nearest town.

This is the way many children must travel to school on remote islands in this part of Malaysia, if they go at all.

Primary school enrollment is significantly lower amongst the indigenous population of Borneo than in the rest of the country… Most indigenous people live scattered across distant islands, mired in poverty.
(nat sound – how do you spell airplane? A-I-R-P-L-A-N-E)

On Timbang island, a new program aims to improve school attendance by indigenous children, by making learning a more exciting experience.

Students work with computers to learn pronunciation, vocabulary and spelling. And teachers use educational games and materials designed to interest indigenous children and promote reading habits.

The program is called DEAR, Drop Everything and Read. With support from UNICEF and the Malaysian Ministry of Education, it’s being introduced to 30 schools across the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.

Hon Choon Kim, Deputy Minister of Education, Malaysia: “The most important thing is to catch their interest in education, to catch their interest in reading. And from the response from the parents and the officers, the feedback given to me, is very encouraging.”

12-year-old Zaini bin Ali is one of the top students in his class. He not only keeps regular attendance at school, he also takes part in special reading camps, where children from the 30 participating schools come together for spelling bees and story telling competitions.

Zaini’s family, like most on this island, makes a living from the sea. His father is a fisherman, and he often helps clean and prepare shrimp and other sea creatures his father brings home.

He says he particularly likes to study English, and enjoys visiting the school’s new library with his teacher.

Zaini bin Ali: “I want to study English because I want to be smart. And one day I want to become a doctor. So by studying English now I can build a foundation that will help me later on in life.”

With a more interactive and enjoyable classroom environment, it’s hoped school will play a greater role in the lives of young indigenous children across Malaysia……both improving their performance in class and on national exams, and providing a deeper understanding of the world beyond their island.

On Timbang Island, Malaysia, this is Steve Nettleton reporting for UNICEF television. Unite for children.

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